After nine months of work, two open houses and one of the most extensive stakeholder consultation processes consultants Lees and Associates has ever conducted, the District of Squamish has unveiled its long-term vision for the community's parks and recreation facilities.
The Parks and Recreation Master Plan assesses existing rec and parks programs and infrastructure, and creates a development guide for the next 20 years. Last Wednesday, Oct. 24, the municipality hosted its third and final open house for the plan. The meeting gave citizens the chance to respond to draft recommendations, said Eric Lees, the principal of the project's consultants, Lees and Associates.
Highlights include everything from a name change for Brennan Park Recreation Centre to the creation of a community centre and beefing up the Loggers Sports Grounds. Consultants anticipate having the final draft before council by the end of the year, Lees said.
Heading to the Squamish Recreation Centre? The parks and rec draft plan cements Brennan Park Recreation Centre as the community's hub for sport activities. Among the changes, which include the addition of a fitness centre, is a new name — Squamish Recreation Centre.
The district should aim to complete phased renovations within 10 years, the report stated. Office space for municipal staff is needed and, over time, the district should develop the centre into a one-stop health and wellness facility. That would incorporate the addition of physiotherapy and health care offices, along with cafés and modernized meeting rooms.
As the facility grows, the municipality could expand services into the B.C. Forest Service building across Loggers Lane, Lees said. The district-owned facility would be re-purposed as a family and children's centre, hosting early learning and after-school programs.
News of the forestry office's possible future use came as a surprise to Dave Southam, the Squamish Forest District's operations manager. The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations' property lease with the district expires in July 2016.
“I am hoping as this lease expires, we will be able to continue to be tenants on this particular property,” Southam said, noting the building houses multiple ministry departments, including wildlife management, B.C. Timber Sales, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Youth on the move
The draft relocates the Squamish Youth Resource Centre (SYRC) to the rec centre. This would allow for expanded programming, Lees noted. The skate park in Carson Place Park would remain and the area be redeveloped into an active play space for all ages, with open sightlines and improved lighting and connections to Dentville.
The current youth centre's building is quite old, said Rene Theoret, SYRC community program coordinator.
“In the last few years, there has been talk about pulling the building down,” she said.
However, money has been poured into the centre. Two years ago, $10,000 was spent converting the garage into a music room.
Brennan Park is a central location for youth in Brackendale and Garibaldi Highlands, and the facility is serviced by a bus route, Theoret said. Moving the youth centre could broaden the centre's activities, Theoret said, but she worries that the space would lose the “youth sanctuary feeling” that comes with teenagers having a separate facility. Approximately 30 youth a night currently attend the centre, Theoret said, noting it's a bonus to be located by the skate park.
“The ideal location would be right downtown,” Theoret said.
A new community centre
Wave goodbye to the Squamish Seniors' Centre and say hello to the Squamish Community Centre. The master plan calls for rebranding of the seniors' centre into a community centre without a membership requirement. The seniors centre is not yet performing to its full potential, Lees said, noting that it's empty at night. The facility could be used as an arts and culture facility, with expanded programming — including initiatives compatible for current users.
Beefing up the Loggers Sports Grounds
The Loggers Sports Grounds need to be upgraded to host a more diverse range of events, Lees said. Its infrastructure is aging and the bleachers are falling apart.
“[The Squamish Days Loggers Sports Association] is not being kicked out,” Lees said.
The plan envisions the property becoming a district-managed, multifunctional space for big events. The area should be designed to accommodate 5,000 people or more, and including outlets, paved entrances and better lighting.
To aid Squamish's growing list of annual cultural and sporting events, the municipality should hire an events coordinator, Lees said. The municipality should also streamline its events application process, a adjustment that's currently underway. The plan also calls for a municipal arts advisory committee.
The draft plan relocates Squamish's equestrian centre to space within the potential Legacy Sports Park site on Raven Drive. It calls for a covered equestrian facility, connected to trails.
“Primarily, we think there are better locations for the vision they have in mind,” Lees said, noting that the Squamish Valley Equestrian Association's property is land-constrained.
The recommendation was not well received by the equestrian association (SVEA). After years of volunteer hours and an estimated $100,000 spent on upgrades, the association has just finished paying off bills for its two rings, said Jinny Antilla, SVEA's vice-president.
“I doubt our club can afford to replace what we have,” she said, adding the proposed new site has already been tabbed as a future Nordic sports park. “It's unlikely [there'll be the space] to accommodate both things.”
The property is adjacent to the Squamish Valley Rod and Gun Club, which poses a danger for riders, as firearms noise may spook horses, Antilla said.
In light of the proximity to the gun club, the recommendation will be revisited, Lees said.
Bring on the wheels
Squamish should capitalize on its growing mountain biking reputation, Lees said. The district has a BMX park at the rec centre and is planning construction of a mountain bike skills park. The municipality should take a few steps further, Lees said.
The draft foresees a pump track neighbouring the two biking facilities. It also calls for the district to follow through with its 2011 Trails Master Plan by increasing the financial and coordination support for volunteers who currently maintain and develop biking trails.
Squamish has a small tax base, Lees noted, so in order to achieve the master plan's goals, the district needs partners to leverage resources.
“There needs to be a system to work with these groups,” Lees said.
The draft envisions the establishment of a trails steering committee.
If outdoor recreation is made a priority, as Squamish's slogan implies, funding needs to match its importance, said Jeff Cooke, the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association's vice-president. The draft plan is packed with recommendations, he noted, and the difficulty will be deciding what the district can afford and how to roll it out.
“It's 20 years [worth] of work,” Cooke said.
Down by the sea
Although Squamish is bordered by water on one side, not many areas are easily accessible to the public, Lees said. The draft plan calls for the district to acquire waterfront parkland through redevelopment processes.
A “Blueway” route — a waterway path — could be established for canoeists, kayakers, and stand-up paddleboarders, allowing them to travel from the estuary to the Mamquam Blind Channel, while minimizing human interference with nature, the draft noted.
As kiteboarding and windsurfing grow in popularity, the municipality should work with the Squamish Windsports Society to improve The Spit and ensure environmental issues, such as illegal camping in the estuary and waste management, are addressed, the draft stated.
The Spit will soon reach its user capacity, said Jamie Martin, the society's vice-president. The district needs to explore more than one access point for these recreational users, Martin said, noting that Nexen Beach is quickly becoming an alternative location for windsurfers and kiteboarders.
Although he said he was glad that windsports were included in the plan, he would like to have seen the proposed kiteboarding and windsurfing beach outlined in the Squamish Oceanfront Development nailed down in the draft.
“If they would include that in the plan, it would cement it,” he said.
Squamish Yacht Club commodore Ian Dennis said he was surprised to hear boating didn't take up space in the draft master plan. With 300 boats in the area and 150 club members, sailing is a huge part of the community, he noted.
Getting vessels in and out of the water is an ongoing issue in town, Dennis said. On a summer weekend, up to 50 boats are launched at Squamish's boat ramp.
“That needs to be addressed,” he said.
There's also the ongoing dilemma of the Mamquam Blind Channel. Inadequate water depth currently presents a hazard at low tide, Dennis said. A few years ago a Vancouver tour company examined making trips to Squamish, but discovered the channel's condition prevented insurance coverage, he said.
“There is so much revenue that is being lost there,” Dennis said. “Nobody wants to deal with it.”
The master plan doesn't delve into specifics around the Spit and sailing community, Lees said. Such details would be ironed out in a management plan for the spit, he noted.
Brackendale Farmers Institute Park
Squamish is generally fairly well served as far as access to parks, Lees said.
The Smoke Bluffs Park is one area in which a nature and climbing themed play area for children could be introduced, he said, adding there is a need throughout the community for dog and water parks.
The document recommends that the district seek permanent park status for the Brackendale Farmers Institute Walking Park and that the municipality continue negotiations with B.C. Rail, CN Rail and other landowners to gain district-owned water access.
Thor Froslev of the Brackendale Farmers Institute said his heart jumped when he saw the park recommendation. He has been pushing to make the area an official park for the past 22 years. Although a positive step, Froslev noted he's not holding his breath. For the suggestion to become a reality, council needs to take the bull by the horn.
“I would like to see this happen while I am still alive,” Froslev said, noting a lot of background work has already been compiled.
For more information on the draft and to provide your feedback on the draft plan visit www.squamish.ca. An online survey will be made public until Nov. 7.